When the West Virginia football team squares up against Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Tuesday, December 28 it will be the first time ever that the two schools will face off against one other.
It will also be another appearance for a couple of teams who have both played in this bowl game before.
The Mountaineers played in the Cactus Bowl in 2016 which was another name for the Guaranteed Rate Bowl and defeated Arizona State 43-42 in a tightly contested matchup. This will be West Virginia’s third ever appearance in this bowl game, with the other time coming in 1998.
Minnesota took part in the bowl game when it was called the Insight.com Bowl in 2006, 2008 and 2009 with all three games resulting in losses to Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas, respectively.
West Virginia will not face off against Arizona State this time in the desert but a new foe in the Golden Gophers of Minnesota led by head coach P.J. Fleck. It has also been announced that West Virginia assistant coach and newly hired Minnesota offensive coordinator, Kirk Ciarroca will not coach for Minnesota in the bowl game after there was speculation he would.
Minnesota is entering their 22nd ever bowl game and most recently took care of Auburn in the 2019 Outback Bowl which saw the Golden Gophers finish off the Tigers, 31-24. The team is 9-12 overall in bowl games since playing in them in the 1960 season.
The Golden Gophers are coming off a two-game win streak to end their regular season over Indiana and Wisconsin. The only ranked team Minnesota played in the regular season was then-No. 4 Ohio State as the team fell to the Buckeyes by a final score of 45-31.
Fleck is in his fifth season as the commander of this Minnesota team and has recorded a 32-21 overall mark since coaching in Minneapolis. Fleck’s rise in his coaching ranks came when he led the Golden Gophers to their best season since 1904 in 2019 when the team had an 11-game win season. Fleck has led his team to two bowl game victories including a Quick Lane Bowl victory in 2018 and an Outback Bowl victory in 2019.
Fleck heads a team which is led by redshirt senior quarterback Tanner Morgan’s 1,935 passing yards and 10 touchdowns while compiling a 135.25 passer rating on the year. Morgan’s favorite targets have included redshirt senior receiver Chris Autman-Bell who has tracked in a team high 490 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions. Redshirt sophomore Dylan Wright trails Autman-Bell with two touchdown catches on the year.
The Minnesota backfield is led by redshirt freshman running back Ky Thomas’ 680 rushing yards while redshirt sophomore Trey Potts holds the team lead in rushing touchdowns with six.
Overall on the season, Minnesota has passed for an average of 166.4 yards per contest while holding opponents to 184.67 yards through the air per game. On the ground, the Golden Gophers have averaged 193.8 yards per game while holding the opposition to a lowly 100.2 yards per matchup.
West Virginia and Minnesota will kick off from Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday, Dec. 28 at 10:15 p.m. ET. with televising on ESPN.
Photo by Eric Miller, Minnesota Athletics